Separation process

Last updated

A separation process is a method that converts a mixture or a solution of chemical substances into two or more distinct product mixtures, [1] a scientific process of separating two or more substances in order to obtain purity. At least one product mixture from the separation is enriched in one or more of the source mixture's constituents. In some cases, a separation may fully divide the mixture into pure constituents. Separations exploit differences in chemical properties or physical properties (such as size, shape, charge, mass, density, or chemical affinity) between the constituents of a mixture.


Processes are often classified according to the particular properties they exploit to achieve separation. If no single difference can be used to accomplish the desired separation, multiple operations can often be combined to achieve the desired end.

With a few exceptions, elements or compounds exist in nature in an impure state. Often these raw materials must go through a separation before they can be put to productive use, making separation techniques essential for the modern industrial economy.

The purpose of separation may be:

Separations may be performed on a small scale, as in a laboratory for analytical purposes, or on a large scale, as in a chemical plant.

Complete and incomplete separation

Some types of separation require complete purification of a certain component. An example is the production of aluminum metal from bauxite ore through electrolysis refining. In contrast, an incomplete separation process may specify an output to consist of a mixture instead of a single pure component. A good example of an incomplete separation technique is oil refining. Crude oil occurs naturally as a mixture of various hydrocarbons and impurities. The refining process splits this mixture into other, more valuable mixtures such as natural gas, gasoline and chemical feedstocks, none of which are pure substances, but each of which must be separated from the raw crude.[ citation needed ]

In both complete separation and incomplete separation, a series or cascade of separations may be necessary to obtain the desired end products. In the case of oil refining, crude is subjected to a long series of individual distillation steps, each of which produces a different product or intermediate.[ citation needed ]

List of separation techniques

See also

Related Research Articles

In chemical analysis, chromatography is a laboratory technique for the separation of a mixture into its components. The mixture is dissolved in a fluid solvent called the mobile phase, which carries it through a system on which a material called the stationary phase is fixed. Because the different constituents of the mixture tend to have different affinities for the stationary phase and are retained for different lengths of time depending on their interactions with its surface sites, the constituents travel at different apparent velocities in the mobile fluid, causing them to separate. The separation is based on the differential partitioning between the mobile and the stationary phases. Subtle differences in a compound's partition coefficient result in differential retention on the stationary phase and thus affect the separation.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Distillation</span> Method of separating mixtures

Distillation, also classical distillation, is the process of separating the component substances of a liquid mixture of two or more chemically discrete substances; the separation process is realized by way of the selective boiling of the mixture and the condensation of the vapors in a still.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Vapor</span> Substances in the gas phase at a temperature lower than its critical point

In physics, a vapor or vapour is a substance in the gas phase at a temperature lower than its critical temperature, which means that the vapor can be condensed to a liquid by increasing the pressure on it without reducing the temperature of the vapor. A vapor is different from an aerosol. An aerosol is a suspension of tiny particles of liquid, solid, or both within a gas.

Refining is the process of purification of a (1) substance or a (2) form. The term is usually used of a natural resource that is almost in a usable form, but which is more useful in its pure form. For instance, most types of natural petroleum will burn straight from the ground, but it will burn poorly and quickly clog an engine with residues and by-products. The term is broad, and may include more drastic transformations, such as the reduction of ore to metal.

Fractional distillation is the separation of a mixture into its component parts, or fractions. Chemical compounds are separated by heating them to a temperature at which one or more fractions of the mixture will vaporize. It uses distillation to fractionate. Generally the component parts have boiling points that differ by less than 25 °C (45 °F) from each other under a pressure of one atmosphere. If the difference in boiling points is greater than 25 °C, a simple distillation is typically used.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fractionating column</span> Equipment to separate liquids by distillation

A fractionating column or fractional column is equipment used in the distillation of liquid mixtures to separate the mixture into its component parts, or fractions, based on their differences in volatility. Fractionating columns are used in small-scale laboratory distillations as well as large-scale industrial distillations.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fractionation</span> Method of separating components of a mixture via phase transition

Fractionation is a separation process in which a certain quantity of a mixture is divided during a phase transition, into a number of smaller quantities (fractions) in which the composition varies according to a gradient. Fractions are collected based on differences in a specific property of the individual components. A common trait in fractionations is the need to find an optimum between the amount of fractions collected and the desired purity in each fraction. Fractionation makes it possible to isolate more than two components in a mixture in a single run. This property sets it apart from other separation techniques.

Petroleum geochemistry is a branch of geochemistry which deals specifically with petroleum and its origin, generation, and accumulation, as well as its extraction, refinement, and use. Petroleum, also known as crude oil, is a solid, liquid, and/or gaesous mix of hydrocarbons. These hydrocarbons are from the burial and metamorphosis of organic matter from millions of years ago; the organic matter is from marine animals, plants, and algae. Petroleum is extracted from the Earth, refined, and used as an energy source.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Volatility (chemistry)</span> Tendency of a substance to vaporize

In chemistry, volatility is a material quality which describes how readily a substance vaporizes. At a given temperature and pressure, a substance with high volatility is more likely to exist as a vapour, while a substance with low volatility is more likely to be a liquid or solid. Volatility can also describe the tendency of a vapor to condense into a liquid or solid; less volatile substances will more readily condense from a vapor than highly volatile ones. Differences in volatility can be observed by comparing how fast substances within a group evaporate when exposed to the atmosphere. A highly volatile substance such as rubbing alcohol will quickly evaporate, while a substance with low volatility such as vegetable oil will remain condensed. In general, solids are much less volatile than liquids, but there are some exceptions. Solids that sublimate such as dry ice or iodine can vaporize at a similar rate as some liquids under standard conditions.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Continuous distillation</span> Form of distillation

Continuous distillation, a form of distillation, is an ongoing separation in which a mixture is continuously fed into the process and separated fractions are removed continuously as output streams. Distillation is the separation or partial separation of a liquid feed mixture into components or fractions by selective boiling and condensation. The process produces at least two output fractions. These fractions include at least one volatile distillate fraction, which has boiled and been separately captured as a vapor condensed to a liquid, and practically always a bottoms fraction, which is the least volatile residue that has not been separately captured as a condensed vapor.

A zeotropicmixture, or non-azeotropic mixture, is a mixture with liquid components that have different boiling points. For example, nitrogen, methane, ethane, propane, and isobutane constitute a zeotropic mixture. Individual substances within the mixture do not evaporate or condense at the same temperature as one substance. In other words, the mixture has a temperature glide, as the phase change occurs in a temperature range of about four to seven degrees Celsius, rather than at a constant temperature. On temperature-composition graphs, this temperature glide can be seen as the temperature difference between the bubble point and dew point. For zeotropic mixtures, the temperatures on the bubble (boiling) curve are between the individual component's boiling temperatures. When a zeotropic mixture is boiled or condensed, the composition of the liquid and the vapor changes according to the mixtures's temperature-composition diagram.

Countercurrent distribution is an analytical chemistry technique which was developed by Lyman C. Craig in the 1940s. Countercurrent distribution is a separation process that is founded on the principles of liquid–liquid extraction where a chemical compound is distributed (partitioned) between two immiscible liquid phases according to its relative solubility in the two phases. The simplest form of liquid-liquid extraction is the partitioning of a mixture of compounds between two immiscible liquid phases in a separatory funnel. This occurs in five steps: 1) preparation of the separatory funnel with the two phase solvent system, 2) introduction of the compound mixture into the separatory funnel, 3) vigorous shaking of the separatory funnel to mix the two layers and allow for mass transfer of compounds in and out of the phases, 4) The contents of the separatory funnel are allowed to settle back into two distinct phases and 5) the two phases are separated from each other by draining out the bottom phase. If a compound is insoluble in the lower phase it will distribute into the upper phase and stay in the separatory funnel. If a compound is insoluble in the upper phase it will distribute into the lower phase and be removed from the separatory funnel. If the mixture contains one or more compounds that are soluble in the upper phase and one or more compounds that are soluble in the lower phase, then an extraction has occurred. Often, an individual compound is soluble to a certain extent in both phases and the extraction is, therefore, incomplete. The relative solubility of a compound in two phases is known as the partition coefficient.

In manufacturing, the simulated moving bed (SMB) process is a highly engineered process for implementing chromatographic separation. It is used to separate one chemical compound or one class of chemical compounds from one or more other chemical compounds to provide significant quantities of the purified or enriched material at a lower cost than could be obtained using simple (batch) chromatography. It cannot provide any separation or purification that cannot be done by a simple column purification. The process is rather complicated. The single advantage which it brings to a chromatographic purification is that it allows the production of large quantities of highly purified material at a dramatically reduced cost. The cost reductions come about as a result of: the use of a smaller amount of chromatographic separation media stationary phase, a continuous and high rate of production, and decreased solvent and energy requirements. This improved economic performance is brought about by a valve-and-column arrangement that is used to lengthen the stationary phase indefinitely and allow very high solute loadings to the process.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Natural-gas processing</span> Industrial processes designed to purify raw natural gas

Natural-gas processing is a range of industrial processes designed to purify raw natural gas by removing contaminants such as solids, water, carbon dioxide (CO2), hydrogen sulfide (H2S), mercury and higher molecular mass hydrocarbons (condensate) to produce pipeline quality dry natural gas for pipeline distribution and final use. Some of the substances which contaminate natural gas have economic value and are further processed or sold. Hydrocarbons that are liquid at ambient conditions: temperature and pressure (i.e., pentane and heavier) are called natural-gas condensate (sometimes also called natural gasoline or simply condensate).

Acid–base extraction is a subclass of liquid–liquid extractions and involves the separation of chemical species from other acidic or basic compounds. It is typically performed during the work-up step following a chemical synthesis to purify crude compounds and results in the product being largely free of acidic or basic impurities. A separatory funnel is commonly used to perform an acid-base extraction.

The history of chromatography spans from the mid-19th century to the 21st. Chromatography, literally "color writing", was used—and named— in the first decade of the 20th century, primarily for the separation of plant pigments such as chlorophyll and carotenoids. New forms of chromatography developed in the 1930s and 1940s made the technique useful for a wide range of separation processes and chemical analysis tasks, especially in biochemistry.

Partition chromatography theory and practice was introduced through the work and publications of Archer Martin and Richard Laurence Millington Synge during the 1940s. They would later receive the 1952 Nobel Prize in Chemistry "for their invention of partition chromatography".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Countercurrent chromatography</span>

Countercurrent chromatography is a form of liquid–liquid chromatography that uses a liquid stationary phase that is held in place by inertia of the molecules composing the stationary phase accelerating toward the center of a centrifuge due to centripetal force and is used to separate, identify, and quantify the chemical components of a mixture. In its broadest sense, countercurrent chromatography encompasses a collection of related liquid chromatography techniques that employ two immiscible liquid phases without a solid support. The two liquid phases come in contact with each other as at least one phase is pumped through a column, a hollow tube or a series of chambers connected with channels, which contains both phases. The resulting dynamic mixing and settling action allows the components to be separated by their respective solubilities in the two phases. A wide variety of two-phase solvent systems consisting of at least two immiscible liquids may be employed to provide the proper selectivity for the desired separation.

Centrifugal partition chromatography is a special chromatographic technique where both stationary and mobile phase are liquid, and the stationary phase is immobilized by a strong centrifugal force. Centrifugal partition chromatography consists of a series-connected network of extraction cells, which operates as elemental extractors, and the efficiency is guaranteed by the cascade.


  1. Wilson, Ian D.; Adlard, Edward R.; Cooke, Michael; et al., eds. (2000). Encyclopedia of separation science. San Diego: Academic Press. ISBN   978-0-12-226770-3.

Further reading